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A Tesla model S car with an electric vehicle charging station is displayed during a media preview day at the Frankfurt Motor Show (IAA) in this file photo from September 10, 2013. Tesla Motors Inc reported November 5, 2013 a stronger-than-expected, third-quarter profit, but offered a fourth-quarter outlook that fell short of Wall Street estimates and the company's shares fell in after-market trading.

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

Toyota is still No. 1 in the minds of most car buyers, according to Consumer Reports' 2014 Car Brand Perception survey.

That's not a surprise. What was interesting, however, was Tesla's rise to No. 5 in the annual survey, up six spots from 11th place last year.

The results are from a December survey of 1,578 American vehicle owners asked to rank brands based on their perceptions of quality, safety, value, design and technology.

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"The key word is 'perception'. Consumers are influenced by word of mouth, marketing and hands-on experience," said Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports' deputy automotive editor, in a statement. "Often, perception can be a trailing indicator, reflecting years of good or bad performance in a category, and it can also be influenced by headlines in the media."

Tesla's 41-point jump from 47 to 88 points this year can be attributed to the Model S's numerous awards, fabulous reviews, skyrocketing stock prices and industry-leading crash test results. Additionally, Consumer Reports named the Model S its top-rated car.

Toyota was the runaway leader with 140 points, besting Ford by 25. Honda and Chevrolet finished third and fourth. The bottom-five-ranked brands were Scion, Rolls-Royce, Jaguar, Maserati and Land Rover in last with a paltry four points.

SURVEY SEZ

A recent Harris poll asked 2,210 American adults: "How long could you live without each of the following?" The results revealed that twice as many could not live permanently without a car (42 per cent) than sex (20 per cent). However, before you read too much into this result, consider that only 73 per cent responded that they couldn't live without food.

Another Harris poll, this one of 2,039 Americans, showed that 88 per cent of drivers 18 and over fear riding in an autonomous vehicle. Their top concerns? Mechanical failure of the vehicle, the possibility of the car's computer being hacked and crash liability (if no one is at the wheel, who is to blame?).

PRODUCT PLACEMENT

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Actress Scarlett Johansson, reprising her role as the Black Widow, will drive a Corvette Stingray in the Marvel sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in theatres April 4. The black-on-black Chevy sports car is on display at the Chicago Auto Show until Feb. 17.

G'DAY, MATES

Toyota is following Ford and General Motors' lead, announcing this week that it will close its Australian car plants in three years, Bloomberg News reports. Toyota has been producing cars in Australia since 1963. The move is expected to cost 50,000 jobs.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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